Don’t miss the opportunities ‘under your nose’

By  Lisa Petsche
  • April 13, 2007
“Sometimes we overlook life’s small joys while searching for the big ones.”  Unknown

The recent March break was a low-key one for our family — very unstructured for a change.
Typically we've done a series of day trips. Last year we took an overnight trip to   Niagara Falls. But the plans we made a few years ago have been the most unique to date: we vacationed without leaving town.

To provide some background: Years ago, I used to venture downtown at least five days a week. Not only did I work in the city's core, but because I had a transit pass, I also headed there for shopping and entertainment, unconcerned about traffic congestion or parking costs.

For more than a decade, though, I've been working outside the city centre. And there's a variety of restaurants plus a shopping mall close to home. So I rarely go downtown any more.

One day it occurred to me, with a shock, that my kids had never been there. They were suburbanites through and through. That's when my idea for an "explore the core " mini-family vacation was born.

I made a list of everything there is to see and do in the downtown area. Then I searched local tourism web sites to get details such as hours of operation and admission fees for various attractions.

That led to another idea: to really get into the tourist spirit, why not book a night in a downtown hotel? The kids were excited at the prospect. They'd never stayed in a hotel before.

On the much-anticipated weekday afternoon, we tossed lightly packed duffel bags into the trunk of  our car and headed west. A great thing about being hometown tourists was that we didn't need a map  –and travel time was minimal.

The first thing we did when we arrived downtown was tour City Hall. In the lobby we picked up tourism brochures containing coupons.

Then we walked to the Art   Gallery. The main exhibit featured treasures of ancient   China. Our two younger kids happily played in the children's activity area  after they tired of viewing the artifacts and other works of art.

Finally it was time to check in to our chosen hotel. The kids were awed by the tastefully decorated lobby, which included a water fountain. And they would have ridden the elevator all day if we'd let them. They were equally thrilled with our room, with its perfectly made queen-size beds, large sofabed, duplicate sinks, tiny toiletries and ninth-floor view of the city and harbour.

Within minutes, though, they were begging to use the pool, which featured a two-storey water slide. After more than an hour of swimming and sliding, we headed out for supper. There were several conventional and fast food restaurants to choose from within a few blocks' radius.

Afterwards we strolled around, taking in the downtown sights and sounds. Then it was back to the hotel for another swim, followed by a movie.  Thanks to all that  activity (including countless sprints up the 27 steps to the water slide), the kids easily fell asleep in spite of their general excitement.

In the morning we had breakfast at a nearby café and then paid one more visit to the pool.

After check-out, it was off to the city square to experience the farmers' market (including "dead fish with eyes " and "chickens with feet "), shop and have lunch. A visit to the public library's impressive central branch was next on our agenda. Then we toured a museum I used to pass daily but had never been through. On our way back to the car park we made some purchases at the market.

As we drove home to suburbia, the kids gave our excursion rave reviews. The short car ride was the icing on the cake.

We didn't get to all the attractions on our list, so we'll probably make a repeat trip  – perhaps this summer.

One thing's for certain: this family's not taking its hometown for granted any more.

Our experience proved that opportunities for fun, learning and adventure are "right under your nose, " to use my young nephew's favourite expression. We need only open our eyes, and our minds, to the possibilities.

(Petsche is a Contributing Editor to The Catholic Register.)

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